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The Ellington Century

The Ellington Century

David Schiff
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Ellington Century
    Book Description:

    Breaking down walls between genres that are usually discussed separately-classical, jazz, and popular-this highly engaging book offers a compelling new integrated view of twentieth-century music. Placing Duke Ellington (1899-1974) at the center of the story, David Schiff explores music written during the composer's lifetime in terms of broad ideas such as rhythm, melody, and harmony. He shows how composers and performers across genres shared the common pursuit of representing the rapidly changing conditions of modern life.The Ellington Centurydemonstrates how Duke Ellington's music is as vital to musical modernism as anything by Stravinsky, more influential than anything by Schoenberg, and has had a lasting impact on jazz and pop that reaches from Gershwin to contemporary R&B.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95232-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PART ONE Overture:: Such Sweet Thunder

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 1-10)

      Let’s begin medias res fashion, midway through that up-in-the-air century, on April 28, 1957, a day before Duke Ellington’s fifty-eighth birthday, whenSuch Sweet Thunderpremiered at New York’s Town Hall.

      With its brash, brassy, backbeat-driven opening, “Such Sweet Thunder,” the title track of the twelve-movement suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, drops us off at the vibrant center of twentieth-century music, the intersection of high art and popular entertainment: African, American, and European traditions, improvised performance, and rigorous composition. A “Shakespeherean” blues, with echoes of the “Habanera” from Bizet’sCarmenand Fats Domino’s 1956 recording of “Blueberry Hill,”...

    • CHAPTER 1 “Blue Light”: Color
      (pp. 11-49)

      Duke Ellington, born on April 29, 1899, could easily have become a painter rather than a musician. Though he began piano studies, with Marietta Clinkscales, when he was seven, he later recalled that “all through grade school, I had a genuine interest in drawing and painting, and I realized I had a sort of talent for them.”¹ In 1963 he even helped paint the sets forMy People, a multimedia theater piece marking the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Ellington called many of his compositions “tone parallels” or “portraits”; his music linked sounds and images. Coloristic titles located the music...

    • CHAPTER 2 “Cotton Tail”: Rhythm
      (pp. 50-88)

      In the early years of the twentieth century the tempo of life sped up sharply, as if someone had suddenly stepped on a global gas pedal. Urban life seemed faster, noisier, less predictable. The hopped-up pace felt exhilarating and dizzying: “Everything around man jumps, dances, gallops in a movement out of phase with his own.”¹ Even before the century turned its musical soundtrack crackled with a new rhythm. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” published in 1899, the year of Duke Ellington’s birth, quickly became a worldwide sensation. Ragtime was not just another form of exoticism in an era that cultivated...

    • CHAPTER 3 “Prelude to a Kiss”: Melody
      (pp. 89-119)

      Melody was a touchy subject for the grandees of modern music. In his 1939 Norton Lectures Stravinsky conceded, grandly, that the public was right about melody and he was wrong: “I am beginning to think, in full agreement with the general public, that melody must keep its place at the summit of the hierarchy of elements that make up music.”¹ Once he had bowed to the wisdom of his Harvard audience, however, Stravinsky sternly corrected it: “but that is no reason to be beclouded by melody to the point of losing balance and of forgetting that the art of music...

    • CHAPTER 4 “Satin Doll”: Harmony
      (pp. 120-152)

      Harmony is the most academically discussed and least generally understood element in twentieth-century music and, so far, twenty-first-century music as well. Despite the persistent myth of harmonic progress, the infinite expansion of harmonic resources forecast by Busoni and others somewhere along the line turned into a contracting black hole. Today most composers, from neotonalists to microtonalists, work in the harmonic dark, and music theorists, still hooked on Brahms, offer little in the way of ideas to elucidate most of the music from Debussy to Radiohead. The dark, I have found, is sometimes the best place to be, but I only...

  6. PART TWO Entr’acte:: “Sepia Panorama”

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 153-156)

      Timbre, rhythm, melody, and harmony are means to an end. Composers, like poets, novelists and filmmakers, have a story to tell, though most prefer just to say it with music. Duke Ellington, however, spelled out the terms of his expressive project throughout his career and summed it up with the title of his radio theme “Sepia Panorama.” As early as 1930 he announced his intention to compose a suite that would be “an authentic record of my racewritten by a member of it.”¹ Mark Tucker traced the source of this project back to the historical pageants of Ellington’s childhood...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Warm Valley”: Love
      (pp. 157-199)

      Though Ellington garnered prestige through concert performances, most of his gigs were at dance halls and nightclubs, where his music propelled couples, rocking in rhythm or gliding cheek to cheek, around the floor. Music can move us both physically and emotionally; this double power links it to love in multiple and mysterious ways. Musicians are sometimes asked to play “con amore,” but what does that mean? One answer, by way of example, would be “Warm Valley,” a slow instrumental ballad that Johnny Hodges intoned “con amore” to the delight of thousands of slow-dancing couples. Despite Ellington’s charmingly risqué account of...

    • CHAPTER 6 Black, Brown and Beige: History
      (pp. 200-247)

      Almost as soon as they had thrown off the shackles of convention to represent the “century of aeroplanes” modernist composers retreated back to the past, or back to the future; neoclassicism and futurism were two sides of the same coin that showed a different side up every decade. After the First World War many composers, acting either as high-minded custodians of tradition or “bad boy” musical grave robbers, practiced neoclassicism, buttressing their musical innovations with audible reminders of Bach or Haydn or Beethoven. The post–World War II avant-garde rereversed the flow of history forward with a renovated vanguardism, back-to-Busoni,...

    • CHAPTER 7 “Heaven”: God
      (pp. 248-266)

      When I first envisioned closing this book with a chapter on religious music (a.k.a. the “God chapter”), I thought that I would examine Ellington’s three Concerts of Sacred Music, which premiered in 1965, 1968, and 1973, in the context of other spiritual works of the time. There’s no shortage of impressive sacred music from that era: John Coltrane’sA Love Supreme, Mary Lou Williams’sMass for Peace, Messiaen’sEt Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum, Britten’sWar Requiem, Stravinsky’sRequiem Canticles, and Leonard Bernstein’sMassare just the beginning of a long list. Many of these works—intense, disquieting, pious, questioning, epic, modest,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 267-282)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-296)
  9. Index
    (pp. 297-319)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 320-320)